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The history of vodka, and where to drink it in Moscow restaurants

January 31 in the gastronomic calendar is unofficially appointed the birthday of vodka. The choice of this date is supported by the fact that on this day in 1865, Dmitry Mendeleev defended his thesis on the topic “On the Compound of Alcohol with Water”. The opinion that the Russian chemist was involved in the appearance of the “little white” is perhaps one of the largest myths in the history of food and drink. Why – tell today in our material on vodka.
To understand what vodka is, you need to delve into the history of the production and use of alcohol. The first evidence of the existence of alcohol-containing drinks refers to the X century. BC. Ancient civilizations from China to Mesopotamia consumed drinks obtained by fermentation from cereals, grapes, honey, various fruits – beer, wine, cider and the like. Much later – in the 1st century A.D. – for the first time there are mentions of the distillation of alcohol-containing drinks – distillation, which allows you to clean any liquid from organic substances and impurities.

ibrahim boran | unsplash

Distillation (from lat. Distillatio – dripping with drops) involves the distillation of a heated liquid with subsequent cooling and condensation of vapor.

Distillation technology was universally used by alchemists and ancient scientists in experiments and medical practice. In the same way, for example, essential oils were obtained. And although the “father of chemistry” Jabir ibn Khayyan had a moonshine still invented by him for the production of alcohol, the distillation process was opened to Europe only in the 12th century.

Improvement and distribution of the distillation method made it possible to massively and universally produce high-degree drinks, collectively called Aqua Vitae – water of life. In the XIV century. the first mentions of cognac appear in the XV century. – about gin and whiskey, in the XVI century. – about German schnapps.
In Russia, the “water of life” obtained by distillation of grape must was brought in 1386 by ambassadors from Genoa. According to the myth, in 1430 a priest from Chudov, having mastered knowledge and had the necessary tools, created the first recipe of Russian vodka or bread wine in the walls of the Moscow Kremlin. Bread – because for distillation used grain raw materials from wheat and rye.

Officially, the term “vodka” came into use in the XVII century and was applied to home-made tinctures on the farms of landowners. Until the end of the nineteenth century, in Russia, in the official language, vodka continued to be called bread wine, half a gum and moonshine. But this drink was not like the one that a modern consumer knows.

vodka is not a Russian drink
The rapid development of the perfume industry, the chemical and medical fields during the time of the technological revolution required a powerful amount of ethyl alcohol. There was a need for technology that would help produce a clean high-degree product. So there was a distillation column, the first sample of which was presented in Paris in 1867. The design made it possible to separate liquid mixtures into the purest components by repeated evaporation of the liquid and condensation of vapors. Today such a column can be found not only in distilleries and breweries. Distillation plants are indispensable where you need to get pure components from the mixture: chemical, oil refining and gas industries.

An important feature of rectification is the ability to simultaneously isolate several substances or ingredients, the purity of which reaches 80-90%.

But back to the drinks.
With the advent of distillation columns in Russia, the production of raw materials for export and “table wine” began – refined alcohol of high strength was diluted with water and put on sale. This variation can already be called a prototype of modern vodka.

And what does Mendeleev have to do with it?
At the end of the 19th century, in Russia, in order to avoid fakes and poisoning with low-alcohol drinks, they introduced the first established standard and quality control of vodka, which was influenced by studies by well-known chemists – Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev and Nikolai Dmitrievich Zelinsky. The first one, on January 31, 1865, defended his thesis “On the Compound of Alcohol with Water,” the purpose of which was not to search for the best recipe for an alcoholic beverage. In one of the chapters of his work, Mendeleev examined mixtures with an alcohol content of 40 to 55% and found that the mixture with an alcohol concentration of about 46% (by weight) corresponds to the maximum compression. The “dilution” formula found by the chemist fit perfectly into the plans for large-scale alcohol production.

Mendeleev was the first to use water and alcohol mixing not by volume but by weight, proving that only with this ratio of constituent fusel oils – a by-product of fermentation remaining after distillation – they are suspended and can be freely removed by the filter. And Nikolai Dmitrievich Zelinsky owns a project to develop an activated carbon filter, which is necessary for the purification of alcohol-containing liquids at the production stage. The same filter later became the basis for the design of the gas mask.

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